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Making Sense of Multiple Physical Activity Recommendations
10 minutes? 30 minutes? 60 or 90 minutes? How much physical activity is enough? What does it mean for the average American when an agency or expert issues a recommendation for physical activity?
Physical inactivity is a major public health problem. There is strong scientific evidence to suggest that lack of regular physical activity is a contributing factor to many chronic diseases and conditions. Recognition of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle has led many groups to make recommendations for physical activity. Because there have been so many different agencies and organizations distributing guidelines for various types of physical activity programs, the general public can be confused about which order of guidelines to follow. To make sense of this information, we’ll look at some of the more prominent organizations making recommendations and then discuss how to apply the information to some common special situations
- Surgeon General, 1996 – All adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, equivalent to brisk walking, on most, if not all, days of the week. This report and recommendation is important because it was the first health-specific physical activity recommendation and scientifically linked the role of physical activity in health and disease prevention.
- American College of Sports Medicine and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1996 – All adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most, if not all, days of the week. Physical activity can be built into three 10-minute bouts of activity and could be just as effective as 30 minutes at a time. This report is very similar to the Surgeon General’s recommendation, but it is important because it looked at new science and was able to report that activity could be done in short periods and still have significant health benefits. Many Americans cite a lack of time as a reason for not being physically active. this report showed that with just 10 minutes at a time you could be more active.
- Who: Institute of Medicine (IOM), 2002 Adults should get at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. The IOM recommendation of 60 minutes is to prevent weight gain and is associated with additional weight-related health problems. Their recommendation for weight loss is 90 minutes a day. This recommendation was part of a large report that focused on recommendations for weight management. This recommendation should be considered supplemental to the Surgeon General’s recommendation.
- American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association, 2007 – Healthy adults under 65 are for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week of vigorous cardio activity and for eight to 10 strength exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise , at least twice a week. They note that 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity may be necessary to lose or maintain weight loss.
- US Health and Human Services, 2008 – This report recommends that adults get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and 2 days per week of strength-based activities. This latest report, published by the US Federal Government, incorporates the latest reviews of the science on the benefits of physical activity. 2 hours and 30 minutes a week equals 30 minutes five days a week. Physical activity can be accumulated as mentioned in previous sections.
What does all this mean?
Here are some of the key messages from the recommendations:
- Regular physical activity is important for health and disease-fighting properties, and there is plenty of scientific evidence to support this.
- Whether you concentrate your physical activity as 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week or 2 hours and 30 minutes throughout the week depends on what works best for you. Both recommendations state that you can build up your physical activity, but it must be in periods of at least 10 minutes to get the benefits.
- If your goal is to lose weight, the higher numbers, 60 to 90 minutes, are the recommendation. However, if you have been inactive or just starting out, you should start with lower amounts and work your way up.
For health benefits:
- Adults should participate in moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days of the week, or have at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
- Adults can get the recommended amount of moderate-intensity physical activity in ten-minute periods throughout the day or week. But it is important to note that the evidence for doing this is that 10 minutes is the threshold to gain the benefits.
- Adults who are able to participate in vigorous physical activity can receive health benefits in less time per week. 20 minutes 3 days a week.
- Strength and flexibility activities should be performed twice a week.
For weight management and weight-related issues:
Adults should participate in 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per day and also include strength and flexibility activities.
Moderate or intense intensity?
The intensity is mentioned in most recommendations. The following definitions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are designed to help you understand what the different levels of intensity mean. In the right column of this page there are also examples of activities and the intensity levels usually associated with them.
- Intensity: Intensity refers to how much work is performed or the amount of effort required to perform an activity or exercise.
- Moderate-intensity physical activity: On an absolute scale, physical activity performed at 3.0 to 5.9 times the resting intensity. On a scale related to a person’s personal fitness, moderate-intensity physical activity is usually a 5 or 6 on a scale of 0 to 10.
- Vigorous physical activity: On an absolute scale, physical activity performed at 6.0 or more times the resting intensity. On a scale related to a person’s personal fitness, vigorous physical activity is usually a 7 or 8 on a scale of 0 to 10.
Common Special Considerations
- If you haven’t been active in a while, start at a comfortable level and increase activity as you progress. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do 10 minutes of physical activity at a time at first. Start by doing what you can, then look for ways to add more. Some activity is better than none and over time you can work your way up to recommendations. The more you do, the greater the health benefits and the better you’ll feel.
- If you have special medical considerations or concerns, you should start by talking to your healthcare provider about being physically active. Most diseases and chronic conditions recommend physical activity as part of good self-management techniques.
Over 65 years old:
Regular physical activity is essential for healthy aging. Adults aged 65 and older derive significant health benefits from regular physical activity, and these benefits continue
happen throughout their lives.
Basic guidelines for older adults
The following guidelines are the same for adults and seniors:
- All seniors should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and older adults who participate in any amount of physical activity have some health benefits.
- For significant health benefits, older adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week of vigorous aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes, and preferably spread throughout the week. Increasing physical activity to even higher levels of intensity or being active for a longer period of time can reap more extensive benefits.
- Older adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or vigorous intensity and involve all major muscle groups 2 or more days per week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
The following guidelines are for older adults only:
- When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
- Seniors should do exercises that maintain or improve balance if they are at risk of falling.
- Older adults should determine their level of physical activity effort relative to their level of fitness.
- Older adults with chronic conditions should understand if and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.
One size does not fit all
The source of the guidelines, the date the guidelines were written, the benefits that will accrue if the guidelines are followed, and the population for which the guidelines are intended are all factors to weigh as you consider whether a recommendation or guideline is appropriate for you. This review examined some of the most commonly cited recommendations. There are additional recommendations made by various organizations such as the American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association. and for different ages, such as children, toddlers and older adults.
Whichever guideline you choose to follow. Remember to start slow, progress gradually, listen to your body and be physically active regularly. To be healthy. Be active.
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